I took my little girl to see Annie the Musical last night at Jean’s Playhouse in Lincoln, NH. Actually, my parents took us; the theater was jam packed, and we were wowed by everything: Annie and the orphans, Sandy, (played by the beloved pet of our local second grade teacher and his wife), Ms. Hannigan, Daddy Warbucks, Grace, and Rooster himself.
So, I was only 8 in 1982 when I first saw the movie. The original Annie traveled from Broadway in 1977 to movie theaters everywhere and then into our home via VHS cassette where we watched “It’s a Hard Knock Life” unfold over and over again. Not a child of the Depression, this film first allowed me access to a more complex world, one telling the story of a paradox between poverty and wealth, which was unlike my own very middle class childhood.
Like many others of my generation, I wanted to be Annie. Truly, I wanted to be Orphan Annie with her red dress and red curls and “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” playing on repeat. Ask my younger brother how he felt as I belted out, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow, you’re only a day away,” on our backyard swing set for months on end. If he only had a dollar for every time he heard me sing, “Bet your bottom dollar there’ll be sunshine!” Seriously, I could not get enough of Annie. So while in my head, I wished for a little while to live without parents because that’s what it meant to be an orphan, at 8, I couldn’t truly conceive what being orphaned actually meant– or that there were children and teenagers EVERYWHERE in the world who would wish to trade places with me in a heartbeat for two parents, even one, who loved them like mine did and still do. (Thanks again, Mom and Dad, for bringing us to the theater last night!)
At 6, Greta doesn’t know the story line, and, like her mother, when we don’t understand something, we have to “talk it out.” Fortunately, last night we were surrounded by local friends who didn’t seem bothered by her whispering questions:
“What do you mean all those girls don’t have parents?”
“Do they have parents in real life?”
“Why is Ms. Hannigan so mean?”
“Why does she keep drinking water out of that metal square?”
“Will I ever have to sleep in an orphanage?”
“If we find a stray dog, can we take him home like Annie?”
I am prepared for the follow up questions when she wakes up this morning, but thankfully she is still sleeping right now and not wondering whether the sun will come out. Just the other day, she asked me what a refugee was because we were talking about my former vice principal, Gale Davis who spent the summer working in Greece with Syrian refugee families, so I know in her big thinking mind, she is making connections about what happens to kids today whose parents can’t care for them. My parents sat to our left and, to our right, was our neighbor Jen, taken to the show by her aunt, also our neighbor Jane. Thanks to the group of ladies ahead of us, including my friend Barb from a hundred years ago when I taught spinning at the health club, who seemed un-phased by Greta’s interview style; and thanks to the group of ladies behind us including Lori, mom of former students, who claimed not to recognize me because “my baby” was so big now. There were groups of women EVERYWHERE who likely were reliving their own love for Annie and wanting to share it with their children or coworkers who joined them in the theater last night. My hairdresser Candy came with the entire Daydreams Salon where most of her employees had not been brought into the world yet when the 1982 version came to the movies. There were grandfathers, grandmothers; there with little girls and little boys and entire extended families. There may have even been modern day orphans in the audience or those feeling like the loneliest people on Earth who came because they needed to absorb some of Annie’s sunshine on their faces.
In school, we talk about what makes a work of art classic, timeless or universal. Originally a book by Thomas Meehan, then a comic strip by Harold Gray, and music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Sharnin, Annie has withstood the test of time and will continue for generations to come. Thankfully. So locals, get yourself to Jean’s Playhouse soon. There is a 2:00 matinee today, Wednesday, Aug. 9 and next Wednesday, Aug. 16, along with evening performances at 7:30 Thursday- Saturday this week and next. Sarah Wilson, who plays Annie, and Mark Stephen Woods, who is Warbucks, along with every other performer, brought me to tears more than once with their performance. The other orphans, whom I had to make clear to Greta were not orphans in real life, were mostly local little girls in tweenhood who dream of being on stage in other places when they grow up. I loved that about this show. They, too, were amazing. They also probably learned way more about the Depression performing in this show then they might otherwise truly be able to understand in a classroom. A special shout out to Annabelle Mullins from Franconia: you were awesome up there on stage! From the professional actors and actresses to our local North Country performers, thank you for sharing Annie with my little girl for the first time.